Best of our wild blogs: 16 Mar 13

International Coastal Cleanup Singapore: Invitation for Organisers to register and the Recruitment for Volunteer Coordinators
from Habitatnews

Mudskippers: Fascinating Fish
from Our Planet guest post by Zeehan Jaafar

Read more!

Increasing the flow of water from national taps

Feng Zengkun Straits Times 16 Mar 13;

TUCKED away in a laboratory in Jurong East is a team of people who want to ramp up the amount of locally sourced water that flows from your taps in 50 years.

The researchers from Siemens Water Technologies are testing a way to use electrical charges to extract salt from seawater - which could help make it drinkable.

If successful, the project could halve the energy demand of desalination and help increase Singapore's water supply. Seawater is currently treated in a desalination plant in Tuas by forcing it through filters.

The new technology could be ready for use in future treatment plants within two years, said national water agency PUB. In a new report out today on PUB's plans for the next 50 years, the agency called it an example of research that will be "vital" to Singapore's future.

By 2060, PUB said, the country's water usage could double to almost 800 million gallons a day, enough to fill more than 1,200 Olympic-size swimming pools each day.

PUB wants to recycle and treat enough seawater and used water to meet up to 80 per cent of Singapore's domestic and industrial needs by then, up from 40 per cent now.

The goal is important because a year later, one of Singapore's four national taps - imported water from Malaysia - may dry up.

Malaysia's agreement to supply water to Singapore expires in 2061. "If we do not get... the continuation of the water agreement after 2061, we should be ready to assure our own water supply," said PUB chief executive Chew Men Leong.

To do this, PUB will ramp up the flow from the three other national taps: treated rainwater and seawater, and reclaimed used water.

While the goal is ambitious, at least three international experts believe it can be accomplished.

Visiting professor Asit Biswas at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, one of three co-authors unveiling a book on Singapore's water history today, said the country had already done the impossible once.

The former president of the International Water Resources Association noted that Singapore had only three reservoirs when it became independent, and could only capture rainwater that fell on 11 per cent of the country's land.

In 1965, the three reservoirs supplied less than 20 per cent of the country's needs. Today, there are 17 reservoirs and rainwater that falls on two-thirds of the island is funnelled into them.

Desalinated water, reclaimed used water and treated rainwater now provide nearly 50 per cent of Singapore's water needs, said Prof Biswas.

He said that according to interviews with former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's water future was changed by a single conversation around the time of independence day.

Then British High Commissioner Anthony Head had reported to Mr Lee that unless Singapore behaved as Malaysia wanted, its prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman could cut off the water supply from Johor to the newborn nation, said Prof Biswas.

Jolted into action, Mr Lee asked engineers to "estimate Singapore's annual rainfall, the technical feasibility to capture every drop, and whether this measure could make the island self-sufficient in water".

To sustain that goal, PUB plans to expand the catchment area to 90 per cent. Theoretically, rainwater can be harvested from the entire island, said PUB director George Madhavan, but this may be too costly.

"It's like squeezing sugar cane. Once you squeeze out most of the juice, you can squeeze more, but it takes a lot of energy," he said.

Singapore has other avenues. Ms Olivia Lum, executive chairman and group chief executive of water treatment company Hyflux, helped introduce one of them. A Hyflux consortium opened Singapore's first seawater treatment plant in Tuas in 2005 and will open another one there this year.

The goal is for treated seawater to meet up to 25 per cent of Singapore's water needs by 2060, up from just 10 per cent now.

But the centrepiece of Singapore's water plan is still Newater, made up of reclaimed used water.

The first two Newater plants were opened in Bedok and Kranji in 2003. There are now two more in Ulu Pandan and Changi.

To make Newater, used water is biologically and chemically treated, filtered through membranes and disinfected using ultraviolet light.

Most of the ultra- clean water is used for industrial processes and to cool air-conditioners because they need highly purified water.

This frees up potable water for households.

PUB wants the home-grown invention to become Singapore's biggest tap by 2060, supplying up to 55 per cent of the country's needs - almost twice the 30 per cent it meets now. This will be done by expanding the capacity of current factories and by building more of them.

But Mr Chew said that Singaporeans - and whether they save or waste water - will write the next chapter of the water story.

Larger role for Newater in meeting nation's future needs
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 16 Mar 13;

NEWATER, or reclaimed used water, will have a bigger role to play in Singapore's water future.

According to a report to be launched today by national water agency PUB, the reclaimed water will meet up to 55 per cent of water demand in 2060, up from the previous projection of 50 per cent.

Treated seawater or desalinated water is expected to meet 20 per cent of the country's water demand by 2030 and up to 25 per cent of demand by 2060, up from 10 per cent now.

The new report today sets out PUB's plans for the next 50 years, and is part of its World Water Day celebrations.

Singapore wants to have the means to produce at least 80 per cent of its own water by 2060.

This is important as the agreement to import water from Malaysia is set to expire in 2061, a year later.

PUB chief executive Chew Men Leong told The Straits Times: "If we do not get... the continuation of the water agreement after 2061, we should be ready to assure our own water supply."

Currently, Singapore can produce at least 40 per cent of its own water needs. Newater contributes 30 per cent of this and treated seawater the other 10 per cent. The rest of the demand is met by imported water and treated rainwater. Singapore is allowed to draw up to 250 million gallons of water from Johor each day. This full quota would meet about 60 per cent of current needs.

Singapore's water demand could double from 400 million gallons a day to almost 800 million gallons a day by 2060, PUB said.

Non-domestic water use, in particular, is set to rocket from 55 per cent of the country's water demand now to 70 per cent by 2060. The rest of the demand comes from homes.

Between now and 2060, PUB plans to build more Newater factories and expand existing capacity to meet up to 55 per cent of demand, up from 30 per cent now. There are currently four Newater plants in Bedok, Kranji, Ulu Pandan and Changi.

Singapore's second desalination or seawater treatment plant will start operations in Tuas this year. The first plant opened in 2005, also in Tuas. The goal is to more than double the tap's capacity from 10 per cent now to 25 per cent by 2060.

PUB also plans to increase the catchment area - where rainwater can be captured and funnelled into reservoirs - from 67 per cent of the island to 90 per cent.

This will be done by building variable salinity plants, which are water treatment plants that can tap smaller streams and rivulets near Singapore's shoreline. The new plants can process brackish rainwater and switch to seawater desalination during dry spells.

Read more!

Indonesia, Singapore hold talks on sea boundaries

Straits Times 16 Mar 13;

INDONESIA and Singapore held the sixth round of technical discussions on maritime boundaries in the eastern part of the Strait of Singapore, said a joint statement from the foreign affairs ministries of both countries.

The discussions took place in Lombok yesterday and on Thursday.

The Indonesian delegation was led by Mr Octavino Alimudin, acting director for treaties on political, security and territorial affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Singapore delegation was led by Mr Pang Khang Chau, director-general of the international affairs division of the Attorney-General's Chambers.

The delegations continued discussions on the Terms of Reference and other issues relating to the territorial sea boundary in the eastern part of the Strait of Singapore, said the statement.

Both delegation heads acknowledged that the progress at the discussions would contribute to strengthening bilateral relations.

The talks were a follow-up to the fifth round of discussions in Singapore on Nov 8 and Nov 9.

The two countries had in 2009 signed a treaty on the western segment of the maritime boundary, between Indonesia's Pulau Nipa and Singapore's Sultan Shoal.

For the eastern segments of the maritime border, two sections remain unresolved: one between Changi and Batam, and the other between Pedra Branca and Bintan.

Read more!

RM3bil reclamation deal off Johor

Tee Lin Say The Star 16 Mar 13;

OVER the week, Benalec Holdings Bhd has secured a major offtaker (a party taking up the offer) for 404.7ha of reclaimable land off Tanjung Piai, at the southern tip of Johor. Sources have estimated the value of the off-taking contract at RM2.5bil to RM3bil.

In an announcement to Bursa Malaysia, Benalec said its 70%-owned unit, Spektrum Kukuh Sdn Bhd (SKSB), had entered into a binding term sheet with the State Secretary, Johor (Inc) and 1MY Strategic Oil Terminal Sdn Bhd “to undertake the reclamation works and sale of about 404.7ha off the coast of Tanjung Piai for the purpose of constructing and operating a crude oil and petroleum storage facility together with a private jetty”.

1MY is a vehicle formed to construct, commission, operate and maintain an oil and petroleum storage facility at Tanjung Piai. A formal sales and purchase agreement (SPA) is to be executed within three months of the term sheet subject to finalisation of all the details.

“The SPA will happen within this three months. Once that takes place, and once the environmental impact assessment (EIA) is completed, typically it should take six months before physical works actually start,” says an industry observer.

Thus it would appear that any profit contributions from this will more likely take place during Benalec's financial year ending June 30, 2014 onwards.

The observer added that phase one of the reclamation works will involve reclaiming the entire 404.7ha along with the construction of a storage tanker. This would take about four years, Subsequent phases would involve the construction of supporting infrastructures such as a private jetty.

More significantly, Benalec's announcement coincided with news that the oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE) has committed RM39bil to two projects that will create hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs for Malaysians.

The projects involve the setting up of a RM21bil strategic petroleum reserve that can store up to 60 million barrels of crude oil in Tanjung Piai, and a RM18bil strategic partnership in the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) between UAE's Aabar Investments PJS and 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

Both these signing were witnessed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed Zayed Al Nahyan, during the his official visit to Malaysia on Tuesday.

“Benalec has been marketing their project for a long time. They have been everywhere looking for potential purchases to Europe, Middle East, apart from combing the Jurong petrochemical hub in Singapore. With Johor shaping up very nicely and fast becoming a viable hub, foreigners see the potential. They understand the Iskandar Development Region (IDR) appeal. Now Johor gives Singaporeans a choice. Benalec is similar to the IDR for the oil and gas sector,” says one observer.

“This landmark announcement vindicates our long-standing conviction of Tanjung Piai's high development potential. By extension, it addresses any doubt about Benalec's dealmaking prowess, with much more to come,” says Amresearch analyst Mak Hoy Ken.

Mak says that while salient details such as the contract price have not been revealed, the significance of the deal is clear.

“Firstly, the strategic importance of a trailblazer offtaker and associated inflow of potential foreign direct investment may see the EIA approval being fast-tracked. Secondly, the spillover from it is massive, anchored by future investments from Abu Dhabi. This will likely trigger more interest from other offtakers to invest in its land concessions at Tanjung Piai, and also Pengerang,”

“Thirdly, the sheer scale of this project will likely accelerate the maturity of Tanjung Piai as a future oil hub, located near Jurong petrochemical hub,”

The observer added that if there is a real offtaker who is investing in Tanjung Piai, there is no reason why Benalec should not get its EIA approval.

Mak says that Benalec is fast-emerging as a cheaper leverage to the oil and gas sector at 2013 and 2015 price earnings ratio of 8 times (x) to 11x versus the sector average of 17x.

If this reclamation contract comes through, Benalec still has a sizeable landbank of 1,717.9ha in south Johor. It has 1,004.8ha in Tanjung Piai and 712.2ha in Pengerang.

The 404.7ha forms part of Benalec's entitlements to reclaim 1,410.3ha off the coast of Tanjung Piai and a further 712.2ha along the shoreline of Pengerang.

Sources close to the company say that Benalec was pricing its initial reclaimable tracts off Tanjung Piai at over RM3mil per acre. This is a lot lower than the RM10mil per acre in the Jurong Industrial Estate, an oil and gas hub built on reclaimed land in Singapore.

The group, via its subsidiaries Spektrum Kukuh and Spektrum Budi Sdn Bhd, last September sealed the land concessions with the Johor government, but the EIA on the entitled area is still ongoing.

At that time, Benalec had entered into development agreements with the state government of Johor to develop reclaimed land in Tanjung Piai and Pengerang.

Benalec's role is to undertake the reclamation of land for the project, the development and construction of infrastructure works and search for potential buyers for the land.

The group hopes to develop the Tanjung Piai project into an integrated petroleum hub, similar to that of Jurong Island in Singapore. It intends to reclaim and then sell or lease the land to the offtakers, for instance, oil terminal operators.

In an earlier report, Mak had valued Benalec's first phase reclamation project in Tanjung Piai, which is about 809ha at around RM1.4bil.

“Notably, our current valuation only includes the first 809ha at Tanjung Piai. As such, a formalisation of this deal would help narrow the deep discount of 49% that Benalec is trading at versus its sum of parts value of RM2.48,” says Mak.

Read more!

Philippines: Dead baby whale shark found off Catanduanes

Fernan Gianan Inquirer Southern Luzon 15 Mar 13;

VIRAC, Catanduanes, Philippines—A dead baby whale shark, nearly 11 feet long and weighing between 200 and 250 kilos, was found by four fishermen floating in the deep waters of Maqueda Channel in the vicinity of this island province early Friday morning.

Jorge Reyes, chairman of the Municipal Agriculture and Fisheries Council, said in a telephone interview that he cautioned against butchering dead fish, which was found at around 5 a.m., for food.

He said Larry Tabuzo, one of four fishermen from Barangay (village) Magnesia del Sur in this town, had just caught a big blue marlin between Rapu-Rapu Island in Albay and Catanduanes Island when they came upon the dead whale shark, locally known as ‘butanding.”

The four fishermen tied a nylon rope around the tail of the whale shark and towed it to shore.

Tabuzo reported the find to Barangay chairman Gerrybel Bautista, who in turn notified the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council.

Officials from the DENR, who coordinated with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, later came in and advised the barangay council to wait for the BFAR representative regarding disposal of the whale shark.

An official of the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, who asked for anonymity, suggested that the whale shark may have been accidentally hit by a banca as it had a two-inch-long wound on the head.

“It may have strayed from its usual feeding site in the waters between Masbate and Sorsogon,” he said.

Read more!

Tourists head to Myanmar islands as Thai reefs decline

Boonleun Promprathankul The Nation 16 Mar 13;

Coral bleaching around Thai islands in the Andaman Sea has made a dent in tourism numbers. Many foreign divers have flocked lately to St Luke Island in Myanmar instead.

"They have turned away from Thailand because of the coral bleaching at key diving spots on our side," a source at A-One Diving Co Ltd disclosed.

Based in Ranong, the company has arranged dive trips to various destinations in the Andaman Sea. Some destinations are in Thai waters while others are in Myanmar territory.

"St Luke Island of Myanmar is now becoming world famous," the same source said.

The source said St Luke Island had yet to see a big boom because entry to Myanmar is still subject to complicated procedures and strict regulations. Each trip to the island takes at least seven days and the boats in Myanmar are not very comfortable.

"Despite that, the number of tourists to St Luke Island has now jumped by more than 30 per cent when compared with the previous year," the source pointed out.

He said if coral bleaching in Thai waters continues an increasing number of tourist divers are likely to head to Myanmar.

Ranong Tourism Association president Somchai Ouitekkeng said St Luke Island in southern Myanmar was becoming popular among Asians and Europeans. But, on the bright side, he believed Ranong could still reap benefits from the situation.

"We have the potential to become a gateway to hundreds of islands in southern Myanmar," Somchai said. He said apart from St Luke, the Mergui Islands were also beautiful and had more sights on them.

He said if the plan was successful, it would be possible to arrange for groups of Myanmar tourists to visit Thailand also.

Chang Island, which is close to the Myanmar-Thai border, is just 30 kilometres from Ranong town. It is a famous attraction on the Thai side.

"We can promote Chang Island further while protecting its good environment," Somchai said.

Read more!

Global warming may have fueled Somali drought

Jason Straziuso Associated Press Yahoo News 15 Mar 13;

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Global warming may have contributed to low rain levels in Somalia in 2011 where tens of thousands died in a famine, research by British climate scientists suggests.

Scientists with Britain's weather service studied weather patterns in East Africa in 2010 and 2011 and found that yearly precipitation known as the short rains failed in late 2010 because of the natural effects of the weather pattern La Nina.

But the lack of the long rains in early 2011 was an effect of "the systematic warming due to influence on greenhouse gas concentrations," said Peter Stott of Britain's Met Office, speaking to The Associated Press in a phone interview.

The British government estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people died from the famine. But the new research doesn't mean global warming directly caused those deaths.

Ethiopia and Kenya were also affected by the lack of rains in 2011, but aid agencies were able to work more easily in those countries than in war-ravaged Somalia, where the al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group al-Shabab refused to allow food aid into the wide areas under its control.

The peer reviewed study will appear in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Senait Gebregziabher, the Somalia country director for the aid group Oxfam, said climate change is increasing humanitarian needs.

"In the coming decades, unless urgent action is taken to slash greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures in East Africa will continue to rise and rainfall patterns will change. This will create major problems for food production and availability," Gebregziabher said.

Stott said that the evidence is "very strong" that the planet is warming due to an increase in greenhouse gases. He noted that the study indicates that both natural causes — La Nina and the short rains — and man-made causes contributed to Somalia's drought.

The Met Office's computer modeling study found that between 24 percent and 99 percent of the cause of the failure of the 2011 rains can be attributed to the presence of man-made greenhouse gases, Stott said.

Global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — which sends heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, into the air, changing the climate, scientists say.

Ahmed Awale works for the non-profit group Candlelight, which is dedicated to improving conservation and the environment. He believes Somalia's climate has been changing for many decades, with rainfall patterns becoming more erratic.

"If you miss one of the two rainy seasons we have a very severe drought. The other indicator is that there is a rise in temperature," he said, adding later: "This all negatively impacts the livelihood of the people. Most of Somalis depend mostly on pastoral production."

Read more!

World not coping well with change in diets, says FAO Director-General

Calls for all sectors of society to collaborate on new nutrition strategies
FAO 15 mar 13;

15 March 2013, Wageningen, Netherlands - Urbanization, economic growth and other transformations are causing changes in lifestyles and diets in many parts of the world and countries are not coping as well as they could, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva told professors and students at Wageningen University and Research Centre today.

The Director-General, on an official two-day visit to the Netherlands, spoke of the need to guarantee the production of safe food and to offer consumers better alternatives and information on their diets.

"We need integrated nutrition strategies, formed with the inputs of society as a whole - the private sector, consumers, doctors, and consumer organizations and others," he said.

While 870 million people suffer from hunger, there are also over half a billion who are obese and susceptible to non-communicable diseases.

Graziano da Silva signed an accord with the University of Wageningen covering a closer collaboration on scientific research and joint activities to foster and promote education, research and technology capacities in developing countries. He said that FAO was renewing its relationship with the university because it believed that in the fight against hunger and malnutrition, partnerships were "absolutely essential".

Role of traditional crops

Graziano da Silva said a global review of nutrition strategy could, for example, involve rethinking the role of traditional crops, which have lost space in modern diets.

"Every region has a variety of non-commodity crops that were used in the past as food," he said. "One example is quinoa, which is being celebrated in 2013 in an international year." Quinoa is an Andean "super food", a highly nutritious, cereal-like crop rich in protein and micronutrients.

Importance of family farms

The FAO head praised the university for supporting the development of both industrial agriculture and small-scale production, adding that its research made an important contribution to understanding family farming.

"I believe there is room for both agricultural models in the world today, we need both of them," he said.

Pointing out that 2014 will be the International Year of Family Farming, Graziano da Silva said that in most developing countries small-scale farming is the main producer of the food consumed nationally and also the main source of employment in rural areas.

He also noted that in recent decades rural populations have become older and in many cases predominantly female. Women therefore need to be empowered, provided with the rights, policies, tools and resources necessary to support the role they play in all aspects of rural life and food security. People especially youth also needed better economic opportunities that would keep them in the rural areas, he added.

Technology needs to adapt to local needs

Although science and technology must drive agricultural productivity and production increases, Graziano da Silva cautioned his audience that technology can not simply be exported from one country to another and be expected to work perfectly. It must be adapted to local conditions.

"Agriculture is too sensitive and location specific," he said. "Soil, climate, water availability and so many other factors influence how one technology will work elsewhere."

"We need to ask farmers what they need, what they want, see what could fit, how it needs to be adapted and ensure that whatever we do ends up being ‘owned' by the farmers themselves," he added.

FAO's role

Graziano da Silva also spoke of fundamental changes taking place in FAO as it concentrates its work on the world's most pressing food, nutrition, agricultural and rural development problems.

"FAO's mission to contribute to ending hunger in the world is as valid today as it was in 1945 when it was created ... but the challenges are different today," he said.

He said that FAO has developed new strategic objectives to respond to emerging global trends and challenges. These strategic objectives are: ending hunger and malnutrition; producing sustainably; reducing rural poverty; improving food systems and their fairness; and increasing resilience to external shocks.

Memorandum of Understanding signed

Graziano da Silva and Aalt Dijkhuizen, President of the Executive Board of the Wageningen University and Research Centre, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on collaboration over the next four years. It covers exchanges of information and policy dialogue, the joint promotion of education, research and technology capacities in developing countries, and exchange of scientific staff and young professionals among other things.

Read more!